Inside track: All aboard the eco-bus, says Neil Rankin

05 October 2021 by
Inside track: All aboard the eco-bus, says Neil Rankin

If, as a chef, you can't cook with a clear environmental conscious, get off the bus, says, Neil Rankin.

As a consumer I suck hard at being sustainable. I still eat meat and when I've had a few drinks I rarely care what it is or where it comes from.

I love going to fancy steakhouses and ordering big cuts of meat, sometimes with lobster on the side, and I'm aware it doesn't really come from sustainable sources. I go to sushi bars and order bluefin tuna that's as fat and proud as Lizzo and as endangered as an honest politician. I order Deliveroo – which is just lazy for a chef – and I buy plastic bottles and don't always recycle them.

But let's be honest, being an ethical consumer is really hard and sacrificing nice things is tough, and when life is tough, we want the comfort of convenience.

Owning a business is different though, and unfortunately the burden of responsibility does fall directly on our shoulders. In short, it's up to us to make those choices easier, more convenient and more delicious for people to make. As a consumer I'm responsible for one person, but as a supplier I'm responsible for thousands, and as an influential supplier I'm responsible for thousands of thousands.

Chefs and restaurants can literally change the way the nation eats and have done so many times over. We influence the producers, the supermarkets and the consumers, and the power to change this is one of the most powerful tools we have. Unfortunately the time to change everything was yesterday.

It's not all about meat and fish, but they are the easiest change to make. If you're reading this and still shudder at words ‘plant-based', you need to check yourself in at the nearest natural history museum. We're in a coach heading for a cliff-edge and we don't need a dinosaur on board who weighs us down.

There is still good meat to buy and the UK is still the best place to buy it, but if you're buying wagyu from the other side of the world or USDA beef in Leeds, you need to step off the bus. If you still think serving endangered tuna or trawled turbot is essential to your business model, step off. If you think its OK to use a big, unaccountable meat or fish producer to cut costs or you're happy to include a couple of token, thoughtless veggie recipes, step off.

If you think meat should ever be cheap, step off. If you think selling offal gives you any special pass when you don't know where it comes from, step off. If you think people need straws, laundered tablecloths, pointless garnishes, anything apart from a nice place to sit, some nice food and good hospitality, then step off – and if any of this stops you from getting some fancy award, you need to step off the bus too. I'll be blunt, if you can't cook any fish, any meat or make vegetables taste good, you're not a chef we'll miss in the future.

That said, there's championing regenerative farming, waste-free cooking, being selective about packaging or air miles. But the simplest thing is to just stop doing all the unnecessary things.

You need to look at every single thing you do and question it. Not if you want it, need it. I know it's challenging, but that's what owning a business is, that's what life is. It's about challenging ourselves to overcome stuff and when we do we will find satisfaction and maybe that's worth more than any award.

It can also be a way of saving money, but I don't think it's primarily about that. It's about the inescapable fact that we have the nation's food choices in our control; we have the key to making the inconvenient convenient and the sustainable choices delicious, and if you do nothing about it, then you are complicit. And personally, I can't just take that on the chin.

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